Friday, April 4, 2014


In recent years Disney has been feverishly trying to update its anachronistic heroines by making them more boyish, more feminist than feminine. In FROZEN they've succeeded brilliantly: the heroines run, jump, climb, punch and are even crossed eyed and freckled. Even though the zeitgeist words "feminist" and "strong female characters" have been liberally sprinkled in reviews, a “feminist princess” is oxymoronic if not just plain moronic. By the way, does being more boyish make a female character more acceptable to a female or male audience? Or both?  Anyway, none of this is feminism, it’s just marketing.

And none of it matters. This terrific film doesn’t need any of the labels that have been applied to it. Not even the “princess” label. It wasn’t marketing that made FROZEN successful, it was the elusive secret ingredient that makes a film a hit: MAGIC.

And this is top-of-the-line CGI magic. The snow and ice effects are dazzling, the camera angles are breathtaking (the opening sequence knocks your socks off), the lighting is spectacular, the  character designs wonderful, the backgrounds stunning (loved the Fragonard). But, by far, the biggest star of FROZEN is the animation. From the smallest sniff and sigh to the greatest leap and stretched-out gallop, the animation is sensational. The acting is occasionally so subtle and personalized you forget you’re watching a cartoon. The photorealism of CGI also makes some of the fairytale aspects of the story a bit jarring. Doesn’t this suggest, Disney, that
animation is ready to stop being a children's genre and start being a medium for adults

Everything was thrown into this film: joyfully exuberant Princess Anna: a bit of a klutz but really really enthusiastic and her sister the icy Elsa: not a boy in a skirt but a coldly regal femme fatale, a goofy sidekick reindeer with a canine subtext, a silly snowman for the little kids, a snow monster for horror fans and even, gasp, a woman writer and co-director to please the critics. Maybe the next Disney film will have TWO female directors and twice the success.

FROZEN deserves its Oscar, its Broadway show and its popularity. It’s as good as most recent Pixar films, so does this mean Pixar is going to eventually bite the dust? Few Disney films have that spark of wildness and humanity that made the early Pixar films great, but now that Disney owns Pixar (even though they are still separate studios) that beloved wildness seems doomed to disappear into the successful box-office formula of tomboy princesses, inept princes, goofy sidekicks, Broadway songs and stunning art unmatched by feeble fairy tales.

Finally, another message from FROZEN seems to be that we will never again see a hand-drawn animated film from Disney. Although CGI still lacks the fluidity and bounce of pencil animation, hand-drawn just can't compete with the majesty and spectacle CGI has attained.




N. L. Lumiere said...

From @filigreegirl on Twitter:
"Two tickets please. You've sold me on this film."

N. L. Lumiere said...

The medium of animation has evolved so spectacularly that even cold-eyed lawyers liked FROZEN.

John L said...

I finally saw this film. I loved how it broke away from the Disney formula in so many ways. Two lead female roles allowed for more interesting relationships, and the original story was filled with unexpected twists. But I also thought some of the storytelling was vague or confusing. When Elsa and Anna meet at the coronation ball, is that their first meeting since they were children? Had they interacted with anyone else in the meantime? Did Anna’s parents ever talk to her? The snowman song was nice, but I felt like it left out important details. And I didn’t feel sad about their parents because I never felt like I knew them.

Also, I hate to criticize the animation, which was amazing like you said, but in many ways I think CGI gets over-animated these days. Especially in the faces, where eyes are constantly widening, eyebrows always moving, heads always tilting. Too much of this lessens the emotional impact, and it’s hard to tell what the characters are feeling.

N. L. Lumiere said...

It's been a while since I saw the film so I don't remember the finer points. Reworked fairy tales almost always suffer plot-holes and parents never play much of a role in a Disney story anyway. The music just swept away any questions I had. When I heard LET IT GO at the Oscars I thought, "Bof" but when I heard it with the animation it blew me right out of my shoes. Was it as inspiring for a guy? Did you really not know what Elsa was feeling?

I think it's a compliment to the animators and the technology that you expect so much subtlety from the acting. CG animation gets so realistic sometimes we do have to remind ourselves we're watching a cartoon. There was quite a bit of subtle acting from the guys (breathing and sighing) and the Snow Queen herself (that walk towards camera during LET IT GO is flabbergasting, you can feel the body, see her little hips striding under the dress) but Anna's acting was a bit broader. I confess I found her a bit annoying at times but if she hadn't been so warm, Elsa wouldn't have been so cold and misunderstood. I fear, though, that Anna will become the new formula for Disney heroines.

The thing that bothers me the most with CGI is that the art and animation are always so superior to the scripts. What could not be done with a script from Patrick Modiano or Annie Proulx? Will we ever know?

John L said...

I thought Let it Go was a great song, brilliantly animated, though I thought Elsa’s character transformation happened a bit too fast. Her emotions in that song were very clear, it was the conversations that often confused me. Like her conversations with Anna at the coronation, was she being polite? Arrogant? Earnest? How did she feel about seeing her sister after ten years? I couldn’t tell.

Speaking of the songs, I liked some of them, but I thought some were just frivolous and didn’t advance the story or characters at all. Olaf’s song and the trolls’ song were both entertaining, but songs in a musical film need to carry more weight than that.

N. L. Lumiere said...

As I understand it, Elsa 's subtext was always fear of hurting her sister. Until she decided to move away and LET IT GO.

I expected so little from this film and was so delighted to be wrong that I'm prepared to overlook its weaknesses. Like Olaf, the cringe-worthy caricature of the Swedish boutique owner and the un-Scandinavian name of Arendelle.

I loved seeing Anna growing up during the SNOWMAN song and frankly just don't remember the others. But maybe Tom Schumacher will fix them all for the Broadway show.